Message from Fr. Peter Andronache
Christ is risen! Χριστός Ανέστη!
About four years ago or so, I was told that parishioners were wondering why we had so many services. I think my answer at that time was that one of the main responsibilities of the Church is the liturgical life, in which she prays for the faithful, brings the faithful together to pray for one another, and offers the faithful sanctification through the holy mysteries. While I believe that answer to always remain true, this past Holy Week and Pascha have brought to mind another priceless aspect of a rich liturgical life: opening us up to the sanctifying presence of God and allowing us to perceive the presence of God in our lives.
Holy Week is an intense liturgical experience. It sets before us a rich offering of hymns and scriptural readings which are full of theology and beauty. This bounty of faith leads our minds and hearts towards God and makes them sensitive to Him. I do not think it accidental the liturgical cauldron of Holy Week has been the time when old texts and old hymns have opened up to reveal deeper meanings, ones to which I had previously been oblivious.
In retrospect, it all makes sense: God does not impose Himself on us. He does not come to grab us by the shoulders and shout: “I am here, pay attention to me.” Rather, He speaks in a soft whisper (cit?). He is peace and is not found except through peace. Whatever else our lives may be, I think it can hardly be argued that, for the vast majority of us, they are conducive to peace. And if they are not conducive to peace, they are not conducive to knowing God. They may, at times, be conducive to knowing about God, but knowing about God is merely a matter of the mind – an important matter, perhaps, but still only a matter of the mind. Knowing God, on the other hand, represents knowledge in its ultimate sense of interpersonal communion: we know God by encountering him person to Person; by having Him indwelling in us. And we need to try to get to know God, because life – true life, eternal life, perfect life – is found in communion with the living God.
So how do we get to know God? This can be a terrifying question were we to attempt to answer it on our own. Thankfully, we do not have to. The Church is here to help. By the divine wisdom received from the Holy Spirit and through two thousand years of relentless pursuit of salvation, the Church knows that we need something that brings us to the peace that allows communion with God to begin. We need prayer; we need worship and indeed we need the worship of the Orthodox Church in which every aspect of our humanity is actively engaged in our drawing near to God and which is designed to give us the time we need to find peace. Yes, of course, we cannot speak of Orthodox worship and without speaking about time as it pertains to our services.
I remember years ago our koumbaro saying that, when he first encountered the Orthodox Church, he wondered why services were so long. As he started attending, however, he noticed that it took him quite some time to settle down; to remove himself from the busyness of life, to begin to appreciate the service itself and pay attention to it. I know this is true for me, also: I need time to switch from regular time (chronos) to sanctified time (kairos).
It takes time to get us to the point where we can even begin to be receptive to the grace of God. Our services give us that time. Not only that, but they are such that, while bringing God’s peace to us, they also draw us out of ourselves. They draw our attention to the cloud of witnesses that surrounds us. They exhort us to set aside all worldly cares, that we may lift our hearts to the Lord. They enjoin, on Holy and Great Saturday, that all mortal flesh keep silent, while contemplating the mystery of the entombed Creator. The services, then, teach us how to become receptive to God’s grace and guide us to search for it.
Perhaps, over time, the time necessary for us to find peace in church will become shorter, but something strange happens, for we do not start wishing for the services to become shorter. Rather, as we come to find peace and as we are able to more easily perceive the grace of God, we come to give thanks for the extra time we have to savor the sweetness of the Lord.
In this joyous Paschal time, I pray that the risen Lord grant to each of us the peace that He left to His disciples and apostles, so that through it, He may bring us to the full knowledge of Himself.
With love in Christ,